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Spectrum Health Hospitals v Farm Bureau Mut Ins Co of Mich and Farm Bureau Gen Ins Co of Mich and Progressive Marathon Ins Co v DeYoung; (MSC-PUB, 7/31/2012; RB #3270)

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Michigan Supreme Court; Docket Nos. #142874 and 143330; Published
Justice Zahra joined by Justices Markman, Young, and M.B. Kelly; 4-3 Per Curiam
Justice Cavanagh dissenting, joined by Justices M. Kelly and Hathaway;
Official Michigan Reporter Citation:  ____ Mich ____ (2012); Link to Opinioncourthouse graphic


STATUTORY INDEXING:        
Disqualification  for Unlawful Taking and Use of a Vehicle [§3113(a)]

TOPICAL INDEXING:      
Not Applicable


In this 4-3 per curiam Opinion written by Justice Zahra, the Michigan Supreme Court held that any person who takes a motor vehicle contrary to a provision of the Michigan Penal Code, including MCL 750.413 and MCL 750.414 (commonly known as the “joyriding” statutes), has taken the vehicle “unlawfully” for purposes of the PIP disqualification provision of MCL 500.3113(a).  That section bars a person from receiving PIP benefits for injuries suffered while using a vehicle that the person “had taken unlawfully, unless the person reasonably believed that he or she was entitled to take and use the vehicle.”  The Court went on to hold that the phrase “a person” in MCL 500.3113(a) “clearly and plainly includes a family member who has taken a vehicle unlawfully, thereby precluding that person from receiving PIP benefits.” 

In reaching this conclusion, the Court considered and rejected two distinct legal theories that various panels of the Court of Appeals had applied in holding that PIP claimants are not excluded from receiving benefits under § 3113(a).  The first of these theories is the “chain of permissive use” theory and the second is the “family joyriding exception.”  With regard to these two now rejected legal theories, the Court stated:

In reaching this conclusion, we consider and reject two distinct legal theories that the respective panels of the Court of Appeals applied in concluding that the PIP claimants are not excluded from receiving benefits by MCL 500.3113(a).  In Spectrum Health Hospitals v Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co of Michigan (Docket No. 142874), we examine the “chain of permissive use” theory, which the Court of Appeals initially adopted in Bronson Methodist Hospital v Forshee.  This theory arises when a vehicle owner authorizes the vehicle’s use by another person (the intermediate user), who in turn authorizes a third person (the end user) to use the vehicle.  Applying Bronson in Spectrum Health, the Court of Appeals held that, for the purposes of MCL 500.3113(a), a vehicle owner is presumed to have allowed the end user to take the vehicle, regardless of whether the owner had expressly forbidden the end user from taking the car.  We conclude that Bronson erred by applying a theory developed in owner-liability caselaw to the context of MCL 500.3113(a) because this caselaw did not address whether the end user of a vehicle violated the Michigan Penal Code, including MCL 750.413 or MCL 750.414, by unlawfully taking a vehicle.  Therefore, we overrule Bronson’s application of the “chain of permissive use” theory as inconsistent with MCL 500.3113(a).  To determine whether the end user in Spectrum Health unlawfully took the vehicle, we consider the undisputed facts of this case:  the vehicle’s owner expressly told the end user that he was not allowed to drive the vehicle.  Therefore, we conclude that the Court of Appeals erred by affirming the circuit court’s grant of summary disposition to Spectrum Health because MCL 500.3113(a) precludes the claimant from receiving PIP benefits in this case. 

 

In Progressive Marathon Insurance Co v DeYoung (Docket No. 143330), we examine the “family joyriding exception” to MCL 500.3113(a).  This theory, first articulated in Justice LEVIN’s plurality opinion in Priesman v Meridian Mutual Insurance Co., involves the unauthorized taking of a person’s motor vehicle by a family member who do not intend to steal it.  Justice LEVIN opined that the Legislature did not intend that a relative’s “joyride” be considered an unlawful taking under MCL 500.3113(a) because, given that most legislators are parents and grandparents, they may have experienced children who used a family vehicle without permission and may have done so themselves.  Thus, he concluded that the Legislature did not truly intend to exclude teenagers who joyride in their relatives’ automobiles.  Because the family-joyriding exception has no basis in the language of MCL 500.3113(a), we disavow Justice LEVIN’s plurality opinion in Priesman and overrule the Court of Appeals decisions applying it:  Butterworth Hospital v Farm Bureau Insurance Co, Mester v State Farm Mutual Insurance Co, Allen v State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co, and Roberts v Titan Insurance Co (On Reconsideration).  Cross-defendants, Progressive Marathon Insurance Company and Citizens Insurance Company of America, are entitled to summary disposition because MCL 500.3113(a) excludes the injured claimant from coverage.

 

Therefore, in both Spectrum Health (Docket No. 142874) and Progressive (Docket No. 143330), we reverse the judgments of the Court of Appeals and remand these cases to their respective circuit courts for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

In elaborating on its holding, the Court said it was clear that the provisions of the Michigan Penal Code make joyriding illegal.  In that regard, the Court noted, “both joyriding statutes make it unlawful to take any motor vehicle without authority, effectively defining an unlawful taking of a vehicle as that which is unauthorized.”  The Court further noted that “because a taking does not have to be larcenous to be unlawful, the phrase ‘taken unlawfully’ in MCL 500.3113(a) applies to anyone who takes a vehicle without the authority of the owner, regardless of whether that person intended to steal it.” 

The Court further held that because the language of § 3113(a) is clear, it is inappropriate to “borrow” caselaw under the owner liability statute (MCL 257.401), such as the “chain of permissive use” theory, and apply it to this section of the No-Fault Act.  Moreover, the Court criticized the use of the Uniform Motor Vehicle Accident Reparations Act (UMVARA) to discern the meaning of the Michigan No-Fault Act, when the language of the No-Fault Act is plain and unambiguous.

The Court went on to say that because the “family member joyriding exception” was based upon the plurality opinion in Priesman, it was not binding precedent and, therefore, never was the law.  Accordingly, the Court concluded “our decision today does not at all affect the parties’ contractual rights, and it is retrospective in its operation.” 

Justice Michael Cavanagh dissented, joined by Justice Marilyn Kelly and by Justice Hathaway with respect to Progressive only.  Justice Hathaway also wrote a separate dissenting opinion that was joined by Justice Marilyn Kelly.  The dissents criticized the Court’s refusal to consider UMVARA as a source of statutory interpretation when, in fact, our courts have done so on several previous occasions.  The dissents also argued that the Priesman decision correctly applied legislative intent in the context of the full scope of Michigan’s no-fault system.  Moreover, even though the Priesman opinion was a plurality opinion, it was specifically embraced and applied by a number of Court of Appeals’ opinions.  Therefore, Priesman is controlling precedent and under the doctrine stare decisis, should not be overruled.  The dissents further concluded that the “chain of permissive use” theory was applicable to § 3113(a) and was correctly applied in this case.  In that regard, Justice Cavanagh’s dissent stated, “the idea that the consent of an owner can be passed down through a chain of permissive users is well established in the law, and I see no reason to depart from it.


Lansing car accident lawyer Stephen Sinas is the lead editor of the appellate case summaries published on this site regarding the Michigan auto insurance law. To learn more about how Stephen Sinas and how the Sinas Dramis Law Firm can help you if you have been injured in a Michigan auto accident, visit SinasDramis.com.

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